Starting a business during COVID-19

I wanted to share what it was like going through the pandemic while running a startup business as I believe it is one of the many unique perspectives of what life is like during COVID. Obviously the experience for every business owner is dramatically different, but here is what it was like at Voyage Pro, told chronologically.

January and February 2020

New Years Eve Party

Like many, I started off 2020 at a New Years Eve Party. I remember people asking me about this new business I had started. At the time, Voyage Pro was about 1.5 years old and just beginning to become fully functional. Over the previous 18 months I had worked day in and day out to recruit employees, build the fundamentals, get filming equipment, and create some amazing foundational videos that we could showcase to interested clients. The first week of January we promoted one of our part time employees to full time. This was our first ever full time employee and it was a really significant milestone. Morale was very high all across the board. At the time we had a 1,000 square foot office and an insane drive to scale. The beginning of 2020 also marked when we first started running ads. We were so excited! The rest of January and February were off to a good start considering how new we were at marketing ourselves, and then March came.

Team Meeting: Early 2020

March 2020

We had a couple of big contracts in March such as filming for a 3 day event for a very large company. At the time that project would be our biggest signing so far in 2020. Unfortunately, they would become our first lost project due to this new virus. Losing that contract was a really big eye opener for the team. I remember opening the email from the client saying they had to cancel and just feeling crushed. We were shocked and didn’t understand why they were being so cautious about this unknown threat of a virus that had barely any cases at the time in the US, let alone Arizona. Obviously we learned very quickly that they were right in canceling the event. During the mid to end of March all of our projects and contracts were frozen between the panic going on around the country. Specifically, about 20 active projects were just up in the air, halfway edited, or planned, or just signed waiting on further notice.

Nobody really knew what to do and we all assumed this would pass in a couple weeks to a month tops. I remember at the time being on a city of Tempe emergency Zoom call for local business owners where a council was going over lending options with bad interest rates and everyone was freaking out on the call saying they were going to go bankrupt. That was a tense Zoom chatroom and I was scared.

Luckily the PPP loan came several months later (more on that soon). Here’s where a silver lining came in an unexpected way: After going almost 2 years straight working 10-20 hour days, 7 days a week on projects it was so strange to me to just have nothing to work on in March.

I took advantage of this isolated time to really focus on advancing our website (which as the time needed the help, a lot) and also learning as much as I could about Google SEO and Google search ads. I pretty much lived in the office for those 2 weeks as my COVID safe zone and focused in on marketing improvements. If it wasn’t for that unexpected two weeks of free time I don’t know if I ever would have gotten around to progressing our marketing. These marketing improvements would end up pushing us to a new level over the next several months.

April 2020

April of 2020 was a small improvement. Our staff was working again, mostly remote, and we had signed several projects. We were fortunate that the project management side of operations could pretty much be completely done remotely. For us, there were 2 things that absolutely could not be done remotely: #1 the actual film shoots, and #2 editing the videos (because we needed our server hard wired in).

Behind the Scenes

As April progressed our staff started to organize and regain structure. Our filming crew was now mandated to wear masks at all times during shoots.

Through all the Zoom calls, phone calls, and email strings, we managed to rebrand Voyage Pro as a solution to certain problems created by COVID. Our main solution we could provide was helping businesses go virtual using video production. We would add to our website and social media things such as virtual property tour options for the real estate industry, company update videos for those small businesses that wanted to share COVID updates with their customers, remote product shoots where clients would ship us their products for a video, etc. Our biggest game changer for 2020 was the addition of live-streams as one of our services; something that we knew very little about at the time, but had the equipment for it to work. I knew that live-streams would be needed now more than ever as all events were virtual. I had the team watch many videos to learn how live-stream worked and developed a streamlined operation for it. At the end of April I flew back to Minnesota to open a new business account to help become approved for this fancy new loan the government was offering to small businesses.

May 2020

May was a very cool month and one that changed the course of Voyage Pro long term. The reason was that we were approved for the PPP loan. For those that don’t know the PPP loan is given by the government to businesses who can claim they were affected by the pandemic. If the business spends the right amount on things such as labor the loan will turn into a grant. Literally free money! Luckily Voyage was approved for the first round of the PPP loan. We were able to receive a large portion of money. But there was a catch, I had to spend it all in 8 weeks, on labor. Otherwise the money would not be forgiven and turn into a loan.

So I promoted 4 additional employees to full time. That meant we now had 5 full time staff. This actually worked very well, so well I was utterly shocked. I had an idea to create an ad that showcased someone in their home quarantined and they would talk about how easy it was to use Voyage Pro services remotely to increase their sales online.

June and July 2020

Our sales were up so much at the end of Spring and we had many long term contracts signed that I upgraded our business into a brand new renovated office 3 times bigger than the one we currently had. If I would have known that was possible back in March of 2020 I would have been shocked. It’s amazing how dynamically things changed during COVID. Our website was improving more and more, marketing was getting better, all direct project operations were fully delegated for the first time. I literally didn’t have to be involved with any project if I didn’t want to. I was there to help improve us and oversee everything from new marketing ideas, to finance, to contract updates, etc. I really felt like a CEO and it was amazing, this was significant for me because I had lost about 18 pounds of weight by starting a business over the course of its first 2 years. I was already skinny before I started Voyage Pro. Running a company is so stressful and takes up so much of your time and mental health that I had no time to eat at the beginning. By mid summer of 2020 I was finally getting my weight and sanity back. Things were exploding. Our staff was killing it!

August 2020

August was the month where we had somewhat of a crash from our explosion in May June and July. Early Summer set us up to have the labor infrastructure to handle a massive amount of signings. But what happened if things slowed down? In August of 2020 I did not have the software yet in place to automate project management, so it was all dependent on labor to manually handle every aspect of every project using Google spreadsheets and gmail. This took a lot of time and was expensive on the labor budget. Here’s my theory on why things got chaotic in August for sales: Arizona was not initially one of America's hotspots for the virus.

Arizona COVID Cases

By the mid to end of the summer we were. This is when things got really wishy washy all around. Our business gets the